Old Parliament House. Just Get Rid of it?

by The Editor

Old Parliament House

The last couple of days some discussion on the relevance (or otherwise) of Old Parliament House has gained some traction in local media.  For established Canberrans, it used to be known simply as Parliament House. Then, in the early 80s, work commenced on New Parliament House that eventually opened in May 1988.  Sometime after that, the new building became known as Parliament House, with its predecessor adopting the Old prefix some time in the 90s.

So, with the historical nomenclature covered, what should we now do with Old Parliament House?

Tuesday’s Editorial in The Canberra Times raised some interesting points in contrast to the recent statements of former head of The National Capital Development Commission, Mr Tony Powell.  Mr Powell stated on Sunday he believes the building to be “old junk” – a statement that has ruffled the feathers of many conservative Canberrans.

Old Parliament House is, in its essence, a building of national significance. The annexes and extensions are not, but more of that in a moment. Certainly the central structure of the building containing the two Houses of Parliament and Ministerial Offices are of value. Few could argue the steps should go – they are instantly recognisable thanks to Gough’s famous speech.

Gough Whitlam

We recall taking visitors to the capital for a tour some years ago. Certainly, the Museum of Australian Democracy failed to capture their attention (in reality, that could be put anywhere), however the Museum certainly has a vested interest in this discussion, with its Director being more than vocal about protecting their patch on ABC Radio yesterday morning. But back to our guests: what really got their attention was the area between the House of Reps, with its dented door thanks to sixty years of attention from the Black Rod and the Senate. Interestingly, upon entering the Lower House they stopped and fell into silence, eyes taking in the wood and leather of the room. Eventually, one spoke:

“So, this is where we decided to go to war.”


For us, that sums up the gravitas of the discussion.  It is in these few original rooms that Old Parliament House speaks most loudly of our national identity. Decisions – both good and bad – were made in the houses and entered into the public record via Hansard.  The hub of the building is the nation’s core. The annexes simply have a supporting role.

The back half of the building is now simply a catering venture – and not a particularly attractive one at that.  Not to fault the quality of Ginger Catering – they always put on a good show – rather this is a glowing example of how far the original intent of the building has been removed.

While pulling the building back to its original form, let’s give the world an opportunity to create something truly unique to link the old building to the old.   Revolutionary visions such as I.M. Pei’s pyramid at the Louvre are international statements of cultural maturity.  A redeveloped OPH precinct presents a fantastic opportunity to maintain key elements of our past while casting a keen on the future of our young democracy.

Who wouldn’t vote for that?